The Performant: Homing instinct

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Performance thrives on the Living Room Circuit

What are the barest fundamentals of theatre once you remove it from “the” theatre? This is one of the questions site-specific performances are always confronted with, and the answer is not immediately clear. Does “theatre” require a script? (Then what is improv?) Does it require actors? (Then what is Spalding Gray?) Does it require a moral? (Then what is Ubu Roi?) Perhaps, like obscenity, it is immediately known when seen, but otherwise elusively indefinable. What does seem to be certain, particularly in light of the latest wave of productions set in non-traditional venues, is that performing in an actual theatre space is definitely not a requirement for creating an actual theatre piece.

Probably the best example of space self-sufficiency is the current upswing in salon-style performances. From participatory readings to full-blown plays performed for invited attendees, the trend has become so pervasive that Berkeley-based performance artist Philip Huang even coined a name for it: Home Theater, naturally. In May 2010, Huang launched the “Home Theater Festival”, with events on both sides of the bridge. This year, beginning March 3, the festival will include performances from all around the world, staged in the homes of the artists performing in it.

One participant in last year’s festival, performance-poet Baruch Porras-Hernandez, had such a positive experience he’s signed up for another slot this year on March 18, even though he doesn’t think he’ll be able to use the space he currently lives in on the grounds that it is too small. “It is one of the things I am most proud of, out of all my 2010 projects,” he tells me via email, "[I] have not seen so much joy in an audience.”

 Other pioneers of the living-room performance circuit include No Nude Men, who have been hosting theatre salons since 2009, though their interpretation of salon is more traditionally-slanted towards play-reading and subsequent discourse. In 2008, Boxcar Theatre staged Edward Albee’s “The American Dream” in four different living rooms across the Bay Area, and EmSpace Dance premiered their “Keyhole Dances” in a Victorian flat. And every couple of months in the upper Haight, The Living Room Reading Series brings together a diverse crowd of writers and readers together for an evening of wordsmithery on display.

Seduced by the potential of living rooms used for living art, two weekends ago I also hosted a performance salon in my home. And though I feel I must refrain from gushing about the specifics in this column (fabulous as they were!) I can say I highly recommend the experience on either side of the “stage.” Not only was a palpable intimacy created by just being packed in a smaller space, but more importantly by being in a *living* space, which quite literally made the event seem more alive. Though the atmosphere was casual, it was charged with an excitement I rarely, if ever, feel seated in the tidy rows of a conventional “theatre.”

Best of all, from my perspective, at least four attendees left vowing to host salons of their own, and one had attended a similar event in the Berkeley Hills the night before. This makes me hopeful to think that we’re standing at the brink of a bona-fide movement, not just a momentary fad.

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